Even as coronavirus concerns spread across the world and religious groups in the Chicago area made changes to their practices to deal with the disease, some churchgoers said they aren’t worried enough yet to change how they worship.
At St. James Episcopal Cathedral, a group of about 15 parishioners gathered for an afternoon Mass on Wednesday. Prior to beginning the readings, the Rev. Courtney Reid told the group that some tweaks in the ceremony will apply because of coronavirus concerns, including refraining from handshakes and changing communion practices. She also pointed to pumps of hand sanitizer stationed around the church.
During the exchange of peace, parishioners giggled, confused about how to interact with one another. Some tapped elbows and waved to each other. Though worshippers had been reminded that they could fully receive communion by taking only the bread, many also chose to drink out of the chalice during the ceremony.
Alison Gomersall, who said she regularly attends Wednesday services, said COVID-19 does not worry her yet.
“Although I think it’s important to exercise caution, I don’t think it’s a cause for alarm,” she said about the coronavirus.
Gomersall chose to drink out of the chalice.
Three of the cases in Illinois have been confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which confirms cases that test positive in local or state labs.
The Episcopal Church was among a wide range of religious groups reshaping its regular services in the wake of the coronavirus. Most were limiting person-to-person contact and the sharing of ritual items and objects. The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago released guidelines Wednesday morning and is monitoring the situation, said Bishop Jeff Lee.
Episcopal guidelines, including having those distributing communion using hand sanitizer, mirrored guidelines released by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago on Tuesday afternoon that included changes to communion and service practices. The archdiocese’s guidelines followed recommendations released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Effective immediately, all priests, deacons, altar servers and ministers in parishes in the archdiocese must wash their hands before the beginning of Mass. Those distributing Holy Communion also are being told to use antibacterial solution before and after distributing communion.
The United Church of Christ also posted on its blog regarding coronavirus, warning against both the disease and perceived stigmas.
“Our demonstration of love of neighbor also requires us to counter scapegoating and prejudice such as already has been shown to some Chinese and Chinese-Americans. They are not to blame for the coronavirus!” the Rev. Traci D. Blackmon said in a statement.
The church also made a call to practice “education, caution and common sense."
The denomination also asked its churches to change communion practices to minimize the chance of spreading germs. For example, individual, even disposable, communion cups will be allowed.
Denominations within the Jewish community are also responding to coronavirus concerns, said Rabbi Reni Dickman, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis.
The Union for Reform Judaism suggested synagogues prepare for cancellations and be wary of prejudice and bigotry toward individuals of Asian descent due to the virus.
“During this already difficult time, make it a communal priority to be respectful and welcoming, to combat racism, and to encourage others to do the same,” President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs said in the statement.
The Rabbinical Council of America, an organization of Orthodox rabbis, posted an article about coronavirus on Facebook in late February addressing concerns with direct contact in services.
In many services in Judaism, the religious text of the Torah is carried around the room while people in the congregation may kiss their prayer book and then touch it to the Torah. The Council stated that it would be appropriate for those in service to point at the Torah from a distance and not make direct contact with the scroll.
Mishkan Chicago, a nondenominational synagogue in Lakeview, also released a statement ahead of its Shabbat service this week, said Ashley Donohue, a spokeswoman for the synagogue.
“We will be making a few modifications to our Saturday Shabbat service which include wiping down our prayer books and slicing the challah bread," Donohue said. "It is customary to tear the bread with hands and pass it around,” she said.
Mosques across Chicago are also practicing caution, however, there is not much physical contact involved in services, said Omar Quraishi, who manages Taqwa Masjid in Uptown.
President of the Muslim Community Center Kamran Hussain added that with Ramadan celebrations approaching near the end of April, more people will be coming to regular prayers, increasing chances for physical contact.
“We’re a bit more cautious every time we pray, we are more aware of coronavirus,” Quraishi said. “People are talking about it among themselves but no one has made any comments on practices. People have stopped shaking hands when they leave.”